This Boy's Life: A Memoir

This Boy's Life: A Memoir



The Pequod Review:

Tobias Wolff's coming-of-age memoir This Boy’s Life is by far his best work, one that benefits not only from his enormous talent as a writer but also his extraordinary experiences as a child. Wolff was born in Birmingham, Alabama but he and his family lived an itinerant life — his parents divorced when he was five, and afterward he moved to Florida and then Chinook, Washington. It is in Chinook that Wolff's mother meets an abusive man who would become his stepfather, while Wolff turns to a life of delinquency, small crime, and drug abuse. It is only through a minor miracle — a Hill School alum from Seattle helps get him on a prep school track — that Wolff finds his way out of Chinook to the writing career that would eventually allow him to bring us this story.

Wolff's prose is so much more natural and authentic than in his fiction: 

When we are green, still half-created, we believe that our dreams are rights, that the world is disposed to act in our best interests, and that falling and dying are for quitters. We live on the innocent and monstrous assurance that we alone, of all the people ever born, have a special arrangement whereby we will be allowed to stay green forever.


Knowing that everything comes to an end is a gift of experience, a consolation gift for knowing that we ourselves are coming to an end. Before we get it we live in a continuous present, and imagine the future as more of that present. Happiness is endless happiness, innocent of its own sure passing. Pain is endless pain.

This is a literate, observant, and heartbreaking memoir. Highly recommended.